Thursday, September 29, 2011

Archer's Goon

Whew!  Just got back from a wedding in Pittsburgh of one of my bestest of bestest friends.  It was a whirlwind of sleeplessness.

So.  Once again we are getting into our wayback machine, Sherman, to examine one of the most elegant YA/adult urban fantasy novels:  Archer's Goon.

Diane Wynne Jones died this year, and we lost a powerful force in fantasy.  She was a Welsh author, and far more known in Britain than here.  My mother read several of her books to me as a child.  Throughout the years, my family searched out her out of print books.  Then Rowlings blew up and Jones was back on the shelves!  When I read Rowlings, I can't help but see Jones's influence.  She was friends with Neil Gaiman.

You could put it down to my childhood bias, but I generally prefer Jones's earlier works out of her formidable contributions to literature.  When I say I prefer the earlier works, I mean Archer's Goon, Charmed Life, Witch Week, and Howl's Moving Castle stand out to me as contributions to literature that stand up to any adult fantasy, or, for that matter, stand up to any other form of literature.  The rest of her literature may not be as perfect, but I'd still pretty much rather be reading Jones than virtually anything else.

Having made myself sound like a rabid and unreliable fan, I'll continue with the summary.

Archer's Goon


An urban, YA fantasy novel.  Howard Sykes comes home from school in a terrible mood, having had defend his sister, Awful, from a hoard of girls that probably had every reason to be angry at awful Awful, to discover a Goon filling up his parents' kitchen.  The Goon professes to be from Archer, here to collect his due two thousand words from Howard and Awful's dad, Quentin, a writer.  Archer is one of the seven magical brothers and sisters that control the town.  The only problem is that as soon as Archer has made his demand, the others begin chiming in that the words belong to them, and the Goon has yet to leave the house.  When Quentin refuses to write the words for anyone, life gets unpleasant for the Sykes.  Howard is left trying to maneuver through the tangled world of the magicians, and why the words are so important.


Magic aside, Archer's Goon is a YA exploration of family and what it means--good or bad--for both the Sykes and the family pressuring them.  I can state that baldly now, but while reading about the eccentric Sykes and the equally eccentric magicians, you can only break your captivation with your laughter.  All you see is a rich landscape of characters, sewn together into a twisting, mystery filled plot with a concept I have never seen before or since.  What might not hold together for adult readers are some of the mystery aspects.  As a child, puzzling together each piece took work.  However, an adult reader may get to the end of some of the mazes ahead of time.  There is a fusion aspect to the book, but I'm not given that one away.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What's with series?

With my book, Weaver's Web, I ventured into series territory for the first time.  The rest of my books stand alone.  The character arcs are self contained, and if I turned them into series, I would destroy my carefully constructed arcs, or I would hold them in an ugly gray stasis.  With Weaver's Web, I had more story to tell, simply, than when I got to the end.  But I admit I didn't plan it that way, and still have to plan the next two books.

All the same, I'm a stand alone fan.  That's why I write them.  Stand alones create compelling, self contained arcs and plot.  I find serials, in general, end up with static characters, or they Jump the Shark.  The original concept of the series ends up destroyed in order to further the series.  Instead, however, it kills the series.

So give me a shout--my few commenters--and weigh in.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Beastly, book author Alex Flinn, Screenplay and Director Daniel Barnz

Wow.  First off, I had a long, complex and beautiful rant about the place of Spike in Buffy.  Don't know what happened there, but for now I'm going to keep going forward.  I'll get you back to Spike and my Buffy poetry habit later.

Now we are talking about a very strange phenomenon.

Beastly--book and movie summaries.

Well, Beauty and the Beast, duh.  Set in modern day with a modern, absolute vain jerk high school student, Kyle, who runs into a witch who thinks he needs a change--a drastic change into a beast.  In the book he has two years to find true love--he loves, she loves--who will kiss him.  In the movie he only has one year and needs a heartfelt "I love you," not the whole kiss.  Give it to Kyle, his father is a self involved, vain, appearance bias jerk that makes Kyle look sweet.  Said father gets Kyle a large house in Brooklyn with a blind tutor, Will, and his usual house keeper so that Will cannot embarrass his father with his beastliness.

Enter Lindy, with her drug addict father and her scholarship to the private school Kyle used to attend.  She loves books.  She loves roses.  And of course (I think the Beauty and the Beast reference already spoiled this) when forced to live at Kyle's house, she grows to love the changing, redeemable Kyle.

So my big wow factor:  I liked the movie better.  I will admit I saw the movie first, so that may have affected me some, but I feel I have some solid grounds.

I did appreciate that Flinn attempted to stay so close to the fairy tale, but in my opinion he stayed a little too close.  I liked his having Kyle go quite so entirely Beastly, but some of the fairy tale aspects--the witch--clunked into corny.  It's called an adaptation for a reason.  His audience jumped around like a Mexican jumping bean.  At times, his tone would reflect an intelligent sixteen-year-old.  At other times he appeared to be trying too hard to keep his teens sounding teen, and he ended making his characters sound a bit idiot and out of date.  I appreciated the fact he tried to create most of the book in dialogue.  I love dialogue.  But the dialogue was flat and didn't tend to tell much about the characters, meaning there was very little characterization.  When Flinn did try to evoke an emotion, he tended to simply state it.  Then, as if he couldn't think of another way to get the point across, Kyle just tended to repeat the thought.

One big issue with the book is Lindy.  I know this is a retelling of the story centering on the Beast for once, and I appreciate that Lindy isn't, at first glance, a gorgeous Beauty.  However, she falls for all of the clichés and has the personality of wallpaper.

The chat room sections of different fairy tale characters talking about their woes could have been a hilarious and moving method of advancing the story.  Unfortunately, not enough context was given to most of the stories since he used old fashioned fairy tales.  I respect that, but it will be confusing.  Kids are used to Disney's The Little Mermaid, not Anderson's, and without more context, I feel it would have been jarring.  "Snow White, Rose Red" is even less well known, and an esoteric oddity here (plus, in the versions I've read, Rose Red gets the bear's brother.  But maybe I'm too contemporary).

In the end, it comes down to Daniel Barnz being a better director and screen writer than Alex Flinn is a writer.

In Daniel Barnz's movie, the character's personality's pop. Lindy has her own sass before Kyle is even a Beast. When I saAy "Beast" I do mean someone with the ink and body modifications that would make him a God in some subcultures, but it is no stretch to believe he thinks of himself as a monster. Alex Pettyfer gives a heartfelt rending of Kyle moving from sulky monster to one who cares about others before himself. Vanessa Hudgens takes the meat Barnz has given Lindy--rebellious, fiery, with plans of her own and a sense of humor--and runs with it. To my utter surprise, Mary-Kate Olsen makes an emo witch with class.  

Lindy was one of the main changes here that draws me to the movie. Kyle is bull headed, but she is ready to meet him every step of the way. It makes me respect the both of them more. I also appreciate Lindy's classic need to leave at the end more here. Flinn makes Lindy's father so reprehensible, so utterly ugh-worthy, that I can't imagine any sane human being telling her to go be with him. Not staging a major intervention would be nearly criminal. Barnz makes Lindy's father a complete mess, but a lost soul, not an ugly one.  

I will try to talk around this, but the other huge factor to me came down to the end. What Flinn's Kyle had to do involved saving Lindy. What Barnz's Kyle had to do showed the love he held Lindy in, but also that he had taken the final step to save himself.

The final sequences just simply can't compare to each other, but I won't spoil.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Soul given nothing
like one grew.
Bird curled egg
pecking blind free


Elizabeth Taylor gem medallion ignites Phoenix one more time.  Light pours nighttime bird’s breast.  Forbidden embraced.  Skin organs bones flake.  Sluice dust to day.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Rebirth, my second novel, is out and I'm so geeked!  The links to it are in the making!

Back cover blurb:

Gavin Lewis, 20, is the kind of guy who picks worms off the sidewalk so they don’t get squished.  So, of course, when Gavin finds a naked girl in the People of the Bog exhibit, he takes her to his sarcastic, cynical best friend Topher Soper so they can take care of her, obviously in trouble.

Her confusion, her demeanor, and the fact she can heal wounds lead Topher to realize she is one of the bog mummies, reanimated.  But they don’t know how.

How is Annie Miller, an anthropologist with a pension for necromancy.  Albeit, the magic takes hold of her when her four-year-old daughter dies of cancer.  Now Annie can bring her daughter back to life, but it takes the bog girl to heal her of cancer.  Annie will let nothing get in the way of her daughter’s rebirth.  As the three figure out the riddle to the bog girl, she must find her own rebirth into our world, even as Gavin and Topher need to learn live anew as well. 

I actually wrote  this book before Weaver's Web--Weaver's Web is my most recent book, really.  I have to say Rebirth is the most rebellious book I have ever met.  Most of the rebellions went on during the designing phase.  But it was a bull headed, charging bull of a book.  First of all, the bog girl was supposed to be the main character.  Gavin elbowed her over, and now it is clearly is book, which I like because he is not the magical power in the book.  He's not some weird magical creature.  He doesn't learn any magic.  He's not so hot in a fight.  He's just a good guy.  And the book totally belongs to him.

The romance totally threw me through the loop as well, but I once I thought of it, I understood it was the only way it could go.

Amber, Gavin's sister, developed a plot line I had completely not expected either.  Though, once again, once I thought it through, I realized it was the only thing that made sense.

In this book, the characters controlled the book more than I did.  I generally don't say this, but I'm really proud of that.  It is not as if I just let the book run away on me.  Like I said, the rebellions were in the development stages.  What I'm proud of is that I so solidly created unique, strong characters, that they led me through the book.  To me, a promising sign of a good book is when the characters are so strong, I can ease up on my reins.  What they say and how they say it and what they do--I never have to ponder, because I know them so well, they speak for themselves.

The final big change on this book was this was the book where I developed my signature style of heavy dialogue and light description.  In my old days of writing, I had complex, long descriptions and an absolute abuse of adjectives and adverbs.  Rebirth taught me to pare down as much as possible.  I relied on small character insights from the characters--a line or two.  Then actions--not just fight scenes, I'm talking small movements that suggest anger or fear.  And a lot, including forwarding the plot happens through dialogue.  I actually went through my other books and stripped them down to this style.  I like dialogue and the occasional character wisp of emotion or thought leading the reader through the story.  They have to think about it.  Their thoughts may not even run along what I originally thought I was accomplishing in a scene (though so far it has), but that is even more awesome that they are putting that emotional and thoughtful analysis.

This has a heavy fusion of horror and fantasy, along with my usual other influences.  The style I just described in part came from poetry--the meaningful double meanings and meaningful, single images.  Of course the background in film came into play as a script has to tell the audience pretty much all they need to know, but it is interpreted through actors and directors and producers and editors.  It is fluid.  So I carved it down to bare bones.  Crack those bones open, and eat the marrow inside.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Before I get on with the blog, let me just say my next book is coming out soon.  So, I apologize for my lack of posts lately, but I've been working like a dog.  I'm exhausted but excited.

Now, the word of the day is:  Synecdoche.  It may look like a name for someone came up for their elf ranger in Dungeons & Dragons, but it is actually one of my favorite literary devices.

Interestingly, I first heard this term in a Medieval Lyric Poetry class.  And I couldn't get it through my thick little skull.  I flubbed and failed every single use of the world.  I hate to say it, but it may have been the spelling alone that scared me out of remembering it.  I spent the whole class going, it means the part for the whole, the whole for the part, the partly parsed wombat?  Yeah.  I didn't get it.

While I was studying memoir at Mills College, however, my proff., Elmaz Abinader, made it my favorite word ever.  Every author should use it and every reader should see when a writer has cleverly done so.  Synecdoche not only means that it is a pain in the ass to spell.  Synecdoche means using a part to represent a whole.  The easiest example is a crowd scene.  I use synecdoche in a Rebirth festival in one of my novels, Incarnate (which still waits in the publishing wings).  At first I think Shit!  How do I describe all these crazy outfits and mass celebration that my character can barely walk through.  The reader thinks Shit!  I will totally lose the thread of the story in mass chaos!

Ah.  Here comes synecdoche.  Rather than trying to describe every detail of this crazed celebration, I pick out a handful of images to represent what's going on.  Someone runs up wearing a big snake mask.  A child runs by with a snake banner.  A man makes stew.  Boys jump a fire.  As she walks through the chaos, she notices these carefully applied details, and yes, the culture is obsessed with snakes.  I don't describe everything she sees.  I use careful, spiffily detailed images as she walks through.  This keeps character and reader both grounded.  We all get the sense of what is going on without getting lost in a million descriptions.  Hence, I use a part--a careful image that gives you the sense of the scene--to represent the whole--the whole festival.  Brilliant!  Synecdoche!

Synecdoche has many uses outside writing, and crossword puzzles.  An artist, for instance, often uses synecdoche.  Look at a picture of flowers or a tree.  The artist rarely details every single flower on a plant or every leave on a tree or why that goat is playing violin with the wedding couple.  Instead, an artist often details a few flowers or leaves in a heartbreaking rendering, but the rest are a stroke of gold or green without absolute definition.

Marketing folk use this.  They design an exact profile for who they are selling to, rather than trying to imagine the entire population.

Pretty much any time you use the term, "For example," you are about to use synecdoche.  Synecdoche infuses the human mind.  We don't, perhaps can't, think in terms of messy masses.  Instead, if we can hold onto one beautiful leaf on a tree, one image of what it means to be a friend, one moment in that crowd scene, we synthesize this much better.  We don't get lost in the overwhelming world, but understand that a small piece of the world can tell us so much about the whole.

Plus, it is fun to say:  Sin-eck-do-key.  Synecdoche.  Love it.  Use it.  Lord it over people who don't know it.  After doing that, spread the love.  We all could use a little synecdoche.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

Sherman, let us once more enter the way back machine.

This time let us go way back to 1984.  Bad hair.  Creepy blue eyeliner.  MTV still played music.  I was nine years old and in the fifth grade.  My best friend was my big brother, only he had gone to junior high and our Star Wars universe lay dormant.  My other best friend had moved away, and I was thinking it was time to woman up from my slight, slightly younger than everyone else, and shorn haired tom boy self.

RoseAnna knew about horses (and from the girl down the street, I understood this was necessary to being a girl).  RoseAnna played with My Little Ponies instead of Star Wars toys and dinosaurs.  RoseAnna wore sweaters and skirts, but still was completely fearless about twirling on the monkey bars so that her skirt swirled and her underwear showed.  We'd been in class together since the first grade, but never connected.  I determined now was the time to connect.

After lunch every day we had an hour of independent reading.  Quiet was enforced.  So I had to be daring.  I set down the second of Robert Asprin's Myth books and strolled across the open U of the classroom to where RoseAnna sat, ostentatiously to ask out teacher a question.  As I passed, I let the low words, "I like that book," drop from my lips and onto RoseAnna's desk.  She was reading Anne of Green Gables, which even I was a girl enough to have read.

"Thanks."  She looked up.  "I'm rereading it.  I liked that book you did your book report on."

I had just done a book report on Another Fine Myth, as told by Aahz.  "I've got the whole series."  I forgot I was walking to the teacher.  "I could loan them to you.  Only maybe, don't show your parents."

She chewed her lip.  "I have this book you might like--The Blue Sword.  I could bring it for you."

Thus started a beautiful friendship, which, actually, still exists.  Also, a very special place in my heart for The Blue Sword.  So of course, I reread it now and then--more as a homage to friendship than as a literary work.  However, the last time I read it, I read with a writer's eye.  When I first read this book, it was shelved in the big people section of fantasy.  Now I often see it in with YA, or even both.

The first scene of Harry watching the light play on her fork and orange juice while contemplating her place as someone else's poor relation and how she ended up in the desert, largely conquered land of Damar.  Not only do we receive vital background and a taste for the delicious world building to come, Harry becomes a solid character in our minds almost immediately--restless, unconventional, bored out of her mind, but dedicated to doing her brother proud, since he has explained she must hold up standards, and not go about as she did at Home--which is all their homeland across the sea is ever called.

This first few pages is perhaps the most stunning weave of virtually everything you need for the book as I have ever known.  Despite the fact that the next few chapters are fairly quiet as we deepen Harry's place in the colonial world and come to further understand her love of this desert land, if not the trappings, and the hills--the only unconquered lands--that call to her in the distance, I read rabidly, without notice that not much but character and world building is going on.

The world created is something I have not seen before or since.  The Homelanders put one very much in mind of the British in India, though the lands do not.  They have failed to conquer the Hillfolk, a proud people that stand on the precipice between being domesticated, and the lands of their traditional, and not quite human, enemies the Northerners.  When the Northerners rumble towards war once more, the Hill king, Corlath, puts pride aside and goes to ask the Homelanders--Outlanders to him--to join him in the fight.  Even Homelanders know Hill kings are supposed to hold magic, but Harry is unprepared to face it herself, and even less prepared to be stolen from her bed at it's urging.

As a stranger, Harry makes the perfect vessel to learn the Hillfolk culture.  She is more key to the war than anyone, including Corlath could have known.  As Corlath tries to ease her into the culture and her place in it, a bond forms.  Friendship turns into a ginger romance.

Reading back through this time, I was still heavily impressed with McKinley's world building abilities.  Her characters were all still fresh.  I admired Harry's both independence and flexibility in a situation she never could have imagined being in.  Despite the fact she has been kidnaped, the bonds she forms with the Hillfolk are believable.  Even her supporting cast breathes with life.  And yes, I'm still in love with Corlath, whose pride and awareness that he has done a terrible thing to Harry, even though his Kelar--magic--says he must--make him lovably awkward and yet tender with her.

I had one qualm that I noticed for the first time, perhaps because I am used to reading this as a child.  The build up to the romance is rather odd.  I believe they genuinely care about each other as friends.  Then I genuinely believe they love each other at the end of the book.  But for me there was an odd gap between the two.  Trying not to add any more spoilers than I already have, almost a gap, rather than a progression, is used to create romance out of what was friendship.  I miss the progression.  I wanted some growing sense between them.  It is mostly in Harry's but sometimes Corlath's viewpoint.  I wanted, perhaps not even knowledge on their parts, but those slight touches of confusion, sense, thought.  Oddly, I thought Corlath's love was established more clearly than Harry's.

If this is a YA book I applaud it for a strong, independent think and acting, brave and intelligent female protagonist.  If it is an adult book, I do the same.

And yes.  There are lots of horses.